Espionage

Josephine Baker's remains will be reinterred at Paris' Panthéon on November 30.

Performer Josephine Baker to Be First Black Woman Buried at Paris' Panthéon

The talented entertainer, activist and spy will be the fifth woman accorded one of France's highest honors

André Michaux, a French botanist, was an ambitious explorer whose legacy has largely been forgotten.

The Forgotten French Scientist Who Courted Thomas Jefferson—and Got Pulled Into Scandal

A decade before Lewis and Clark, André Michaux wanted to explore the American continent. Spying for France gave him that chance

This month's book picks include African Europeans, X Troop and Chasing the Thrill.

Books of the Month

African Europeans, Jewish Commandos of WWII and Other New Books to Read

These May releases elevate overlooked stories and offer insights on oft-discussed topics

Merab Ninidze and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Courier.

Based on a True Story

The True Story Behind 'The Courier'

A new spy thriller draws on the fascinating life—and whopping lies—of one of the U.K.'s most famous intelligence agents

Emilio Sanchez, who had come to the U.S. in his youth, was an ideal informant. Clockwise from top left: 1865 bird's eye view of New York and environs, capture of a slave ship off the African coast in 1859, silhouette representing Sanchez, and page from Sanchez's notes

How a Cuban Spy Sabotaged New York's Thriving, Illicit Slave Trade

Emilio Sanchez and the British government fought the lucrative business as American authorities looked the other way

In the background, a photograph taken by an American U-2 spy plane over Cuba on October 14, 1962, shows a secret deployment of Soviet nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. Right, Juanita Moody, head of the National Security Agency’s Cuba desk.

Women Who Shaped History

The Once-Classified Tale of Juanita Moody: The Woman Who Helped Avert a Nuclear War

America’s bold response to the Soviet Union depended on an unknown spy agency operative whose story can at last be told

Informer William O'Neal (played by LaKeith Stanfield, seen wearing a beret in the foreground) provided the FBI with information used to plan Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton's assassination (portrayed by Daniel Kaluuya, standing with hand raised at the podium).

Based on a True Story

The True History Behind 'Judas and the Black Messiah'

Shaka King's upcoming film dramatizes Black Panther leader Fred Hampton's betrayal by an FBI informant

 Elizebeth Friedman was a star cryptanalyst who cracked hundreds of ciphers for the U.S. government.

How Codebreaker Elizebeth Friedman Broke Up a Nazi Spy Ring

A new PBS documentary traces her extraordinary life, from her Quaker upbringing to her career as the U.S.' first female cryptanalyst

A team of divers found this rusted—but still recognizable—Enigma cipher machine at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. The Nazis used the device to encode secret military messages during WWII.

Cool Finds

Divers Discover Nazi Enigma Machine Thrown Into the Baltic Sea During WWII

German forces used the device—likely cast into the water to avoid falling into Allied hands—to encode military messages

A KGB spy pistol used by female operatives and designed to look like a tube of lipstick

You Could Own a Lipstick Gun, a Poison-Tipped Umbrella and Other KGB Spy Tools

Next February, Julien's Auctions will sell some 3,000 items from the shuttered KGB Espionage Museum's collection

Operation Fantasia aimed to destroy Japanese morale by exposing soldiers and civilians to a Shinto portent of doom: kitsune, or fox-shaped spirits with magical abilities.

The Unsuccessful WWII Plot to Fight the Japanese With Radioactive Foxes

An outlandish idea codenamed ‘Operation Fantasia’ aimed to demoralize the Axis power by mimicking legendary spirits

The loneliness and fear of operating behind enemy lines was a heavy burden. Some agents found they could trust no one except their own reflections. Undated self-portrait.

Women Who Shaped History

How a Spy Known as the ‘Limping Lady’ Helped the Allies Win WWII

A new biography explores the remarkable feats of Virginia Hall, a disabled secret agent determined to play her part in the fight against the Nazis

Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan, chief controller of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, is one of six women set to be recognized with "blue plaques."

London Will Install Six New Plaques Commemorating Women's History

The move is part of an ongoing effort to correct gender imbalances in the city's 150-year-old "blue plaque" initiative

The Glomar Explorer, the ship that served as home base for the submarine-retrieval mission of Project Azorian. The Glomar Explorer's cover story was that it was doing deep sea mining research.

During the Cold War, the CIA Secretly Plucked a Soviet Submarine From the Ocean Floor Using a Giant Claw

The International Spy Museum details the audacious plan that involved a reclusive billionaire, a 618-foot-long ship, and a great deal of stealth

Items on display at the recently opened KGB Spy Museum in New York

The Incomplete History Told by New York's K.G.B. Museum

Designed to be apolitical, the attraction offers whiz-bang tech without the agency's brutal past

How to Cipher Like a Soviet

See if you can figure out how the American code-breakers unraveled the complexities of the Russian codebook

In the spring of 2018, Angeline Nanni revisited Arlington Hall, where the Venona team got cracking. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Secrets of American History

The Women Code Breakers Who Unmasked Soviet Spies

At the height of the Cold War, America’s most secretive counterespionage effort set out to crack unbreakable ciphers

The House Intelligence Committee looked into illegal wiretapping in 1975 as part of its investigation of risks of U.S. intelligence operations.

A Brief History of Surveillance in America

With wiretapping in the headlines and smart speakers in millions of homes, historian Brian Hochman takes us back to the early days of eavesdropping

Ask Smithsonian

Why Don't We See Fireflies in the Western U.S.?

You asked, we answered

How to Calculate the Danger of a Toxic Chemical to the Public

The risk of any toxin depends on the dose, how it spreads, and how it enters the body

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